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Google Maps photo of Richmond's Chemtrade plant

Richmond chemical plant slapped with hefty fine for not properly monitoring emissions

on July 28, 2023

Chemtrade’s sulfuric acid manufacturing plant in Richmond has been fined $1.2 million for air quality violations over the last eight years, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District announced Thursday.

The plant did not properly calibrate, operate, and maintain its monitoring system, the agency found. That system’s consistent emission measurements are vital to ensure that sulfur dioxide does not reach unsafe and illegal levels, the Air District said in a news release

Without proper upkeep, Chemtrade’s system under-reported sulfur dioxide emissions by about 33% per year. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, sulfur dioxide can cause breathing problems, making it especially harmful to children and people with asthma. Excessive sulfur dioxide in the air can also cause acid rain.

The emissions are particularly concerning in Richmond, where about 1 in 4 people has asthma and the rate of asthma attacks is nearly double that of the rest of California, several studies have found. 

While the Air District did not find evidence that the Richmond plant’s emissions exceeded permitted limits, it determined that the deficient emissions monitoring system violated air quality rules. 

In 2017, Chemtrade paid $135,000 for two air quality violations between 2009 and 2014, when the plant was operated by the previous owner. And in April 2022, it was ordered by the Air District to address the emission monitoring problems but failed to do so.

Along with the monitoring system, the Air District discovered other violations:  It said Chemtrade did not use proper equipment to prevent emissions while unloading railcars; and that it released a yellow-brown plume from the exhaust stack when plant operations started improperly. The Air District said the company failed to report these violations.

 All the violations have now been corrected, the Air District said.

“The substantial financial penalties for these violations send a clear message to Chemtrade that they must accurately monitor their sulfur dioxide emissions in compliance with all air quality regulations to help protect those living in the surrounding communities,” said Philip Fine, Air District executive director. “Protecting air quality and the health of Bay Area residents is our top priority.”

The agency recommended that its board of directors use a portion of the $1.2 million on projects to improve air quality in Richmond. 

Chemtrade did not return a call for comment Friday.

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